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Royal Commission Hearings Sydney

The Royal Commission is holding public hearings in Sydney from Monday 6 May 2019 to Wednesday 8 May 2019, and from Monday 13 May 2019 to Friday 17 May 2019.

Residents of aged care facilities will provide first-hand accounts of their lives in institutions during these hearings and 40 people have been called to provide evidence to the Commission.

The Sydney hearings will inquire into:

  • the perspective and experience of people in residential aged care and people living with dementia, and their family and carers

  • quality and safety in residential aged care, particularly for people living with dementia

  • the use of restrictive practices in residential aged care

  • the extent to which the current aged care system meets the needs of people in residential aged care

  • good practice care for people living with dementia, particularly in the context of residential aged care.

Residential aged care providers have reported more than 112,000 incidents of substandard care in survey responses to the aged care royal commission. In his opening address of the aged care royal commission hearing in Sydney on Monday, Counsel Assisting Peter Gray said around 40 witnesses would give evidence during the eight-day hearing. He said the first four days would inquire into allegations of poor care and mistreatment by certain providers.

Prior to the start of the public hearings the commission invited 981 residential care providers to outline incidents of sub-standard care over the previous five financial year. Mr Gray said in the responses considered to date, residential providers reported over 112,000 incidents of substandard clinical care. Of those “nearly 68,000 incidents where medication management was inadequate, over 35,000 occasions of personal care being deficient and over 12,000 cases of inadequate nutrition,” Mr Gray told the hearing.

In her evidence, Darryl Hilda Melchhart, 90, talked about negatives experiences in each of these areas in her account of living in an aged care facility in Melbourne and gave evidence about “a never ending battle to be seen as fully competent adult”. Ms Melchhart, who has lived in the same facility since August 2015, she said she had to live with her continence products being inadequately rationed until recently, being woken up unnecessarily and “very bland” food.

She told the inquiry her Glyceryl trinitrate spray, which she needs to take on an as-needed basis for a heart condition, was taken away from her for three or four days after asking a nurse to order a new one because the current one was expiring soon. “I said ‘I must have that spray and if it’s out of date I should have a new one’. She said ‘No, no, it’s not on the chart’, and that was it. She took my spray away. I mean, I could have still used it. And I had to wait until my doctor came to get another one and he went straight over in – really worried that I could have had some trouble while I didn’t have the spray…,” Ms Melchhart said.

She also reported a declining and now inadequate opportunity for social connection largely because most of the other residents are living with dementia, deafness or immobility, and not enough activities including none on weekends and public holidays. “Well, if we have social occasions, both wings come together, but it’s not enough – not enough activities that are going on to keep people occupied, their minds occupied as well,” Ms Melchhart said. ‘It’s an institution’

Elsewhere on Monday, aged care resident Merle Mitchell, 84, who has been living in the same residential aged care facility in Victoria since January 2016, said there was not enough recognition given to “the loss of your way of life” when moving into residential care. “There’s the feeling of suddenly I’m in an institution. I have to follow what the institution wants, the time to get up, the time to have meals and there’s no – there’s no choice. So you lose your choice totally when you come into aged care. And that’s one of the things that needs to change,” Ms Mitchell told the inquiry in pre-recorded video evidence.

She said there was not enough support provided within her facility to help people deal with loss or retain their cognitive abilities. “It was my family and friends who made sure that I actually retained my cognitive abilities. I have seen other people come in here and lose that… “Staff don’t have time to provide that sort of support for you. So people come in and they’re told this is your home now. Well, it’s not. It’s an institution, and it’s where you live. But it’s not a home, and no matter how many times they tell you, it’s still not your home.” Ms Mitchell said every facility should have a counsellor for both residents and staff.

Elsewhere Ms Mitchell said she felt in control of her ability to receive the services or medical or health attention she needs, if she paid for it. “So if you come into a facility like this, you can pay for extra services, which I do, and that costs $50 a day, and for that I get an exercise session with an exercise person for about half an hour a day, five days a week, and a paper. And I do get soup before my meals,” she said.

Ms Mitchell said residents who don’t have the additional funds don’t receive the services while some who do say “we’re better than the others you know because we can actually afford to pay more.” The hearing continues in Sydney on Tuesday and Wednesday this week and Monday to Friday next week.

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